These Photos of Pompeii Show Slice of Ancient Roman Life that Was Buried Under 20 Feet of Ash
On August 24, 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius, a 4,000-foot volcano near the Bay of Naples in Italy, erupted, burying the city of Pompeii under an almost 20-foot blanket of volcanic ash and killing 2,000 people.
It was one of the world's most famous and deadly volcanic eruptions.
The ancient Roman city was left untouched until explorers rediscovered it in 1748, finding that Pompeii was virtually intact underneath the dust and dirt.
As a resort for Rome's rich, elegant villas lined wide, paved streets.
Some of these villas have been restored and are open to visitors, like the Casa del Fauno and Casa del Menandro.
Pompeii was a bustling city with cafes, snack bars (the Thermopolium), and restaurants (Caupona Pherusa tavern), and even a 20,000-seat amphitheater. Incidentally, this amphitheater is older than the Colosseum.
Approximately 2.5 million tourists visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site every year.
Pompeii had a complex water system and port, and two bath houses.
The volcanic eruption lasted 18 hours. Writer Pliny the Younger, who witnessed it from afar, wrote “I believed I was perishing with the world, and the world with me.” However, after the initial eruption some Pompeians had time to flee.
It’s estimated that 20,000 people lived in Pompeii when Mt. Vesuvius erupted — most were able to escape, probably since the volcano had been rumbling for a while.
Those who remained saw more and more ash filling the air, which made it increasingly hard to breathe. Those who didn't choke or get crushed under a collapsing structure were killed thanks to a "pyroclastic surge" when the volcano catapulted hot poison gas and rocks into the air that killed everything in its path.
People returned to look for possessions and relatives, but Pompeii had disappeared under ash and debris, and was abandoned until its rediscovery in 1748.
The tons of ash acted as a preservative that left Pompeii like an untouched shrine to Roman life.
Today, Pompeii excavations have been ongoing for nearly three centuries, and around 75% of the city has been unearthed. Statues and art survived the eruption perfectly preserved.
Excavators found skeletons hiding under staircases, crouching in corners, holding on to each other.
Even everyday household items were uncovered, most famously some loaves of bread. This is the The Granai del Foro, which stores the many amphorae and body casts that were made in the late 19th century.
While Mt. Vesuvius hasn't erupted since 1944, it is still considered one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world, and experts think that another huge eruption could occur any day.
That would be a disaster, as almost three million people live within 20 miles of the volcano today.